Monday, July 1, 2013

"Welcome to Samaria!" - a sermon for Pride Sunday Festival Eucharist

A sermon preached by the Rev. Mark Kozielec at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 30, 2013 As our good friend Louie Crew—who founded Integrity almost forty years ago and has worked so long for justice for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people in the church and the world—as Louie would say at the start of many a homily on auspicious occasions such as these: “Welcome to Samaria!”

I wonder, however, if this notion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered people as on the outside, at the margins, worshipping at the wrong sanctuary—I wonder if this metaphor continues to be as strong as it was now that 13 states (including California!) and the District of Columbia recognize our right to marry—and as the Supreme Court clears the way for federal benefits for those state-recognized marriages. Halleluiah!

 I don’t know about you, but I wept on Wednesday morning. Never in my wildest imaginings did I expect such movement in my lifetime. So, I wonder, too, how much longer we can wrap ourselves in the mantle of marginalization now that our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers can openly and proudly serve in the military and that more than 140 of the Fortune 500 companies not only protect our rights of employment, but actively recruit us. And the Episcopal Church? (Well, look around.)

 Of course, amid all that we have to celebrate this morning (and indeed it is quite a bit), we know that we still have a long road to travel for full and equal rights and protection in this land of freedom and justice—especially in light of the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, and especially in places like Missouri, where, I recently learned, I can be asked to leave a restaurant because I am gay. Who knew?

 Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth are still being bullied at school, kicked out of homes, and relentlessly abused by so-called “Christians.” LGBT folks continue to be dismissed from jobs, denied access to spousal health-care benefits, and banned from being adult leaders in the Boy Scouts (has anyone quite figured that one out yet?). Welcome to Samaria!

Even our gospel text this morning is not very charitable towards Samaritans. It isn’t until the next chapter in Luke that we hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus uses extreme hyperbole—“A GOOD Samaritan??! Preposterous!”—to highlight that God’s love for creation knows no boundaries. Here, this morning, however, we have the centuries-in-grained prejudice against Samaritans to contend with—and with Jesus’ help, we will.

As we do, and reminded of Martin Luther King’s insistence that the arc of history is long, yet always bending towards justice, I am here today to remind each and every one of us—and especially those who identify as LGBT—that the arc of God’s action in creation is long, and it always bends towards love. Even outside a dusty, Podunk, backwater village in Samaria.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He sends some followers ahead to make arrangements for a place to rest and to keep Shabbat along the way. In a Samaritan village, his followers are told, “No thanks, no place for him here.” We might wonder, why the lack of hospitality? Perhaps our answer can be found in the author of Luke noting twice in three verses that Jesus’ “face was set toward Jerusalem.”

This does not simply mean that Jesus was on a jolly jaunt to Jerusalem—this was his final journey to Jerusalem, and his destination was the Temple, not only to worship, but to challenge and be challenged by the authorities there. For our gospel reading this morning we need to remember that for centuries there had been great enmity between Jews and Samaritans over where, exactly, the legitimate sanctuary of God was located.

Samaritans, originally part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, thought it located there. Jews in Jerusalem, once part of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, insisted that Jerusalem was it. And since Samaritans would assume that Jesus and his followers would see Jerusalem as the only legitimate sight, Samaritans might easily wonder why they should prepare a feast for foreigners at a place that had been denigrated by Jerusalem Jews for centuries. Now, I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but notice at least a shadow of similarity here in our own ongoing discussions this year over where our own Pride festivities should be rightfully held. But I digress.

When James and John hear of the Samaritans’ disrespect of Jesus, thoroughly and utterly insulted, (“How dare those low-down Samaritans!”), they respond with, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Well, my Samaritan sisters and brothers, that sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Let us recall for a moment how some religious leaders insist that “God hates fags,” and that Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy and perhaps a California brush fire or two can all be laid at the feet of LGBT folks. At least in the allegedly “Christian” thinking of the Phelps’ and Falwells and Robertsons among us.

Of course, Jesus, will have none of this. The author of Luke tells us that Jesus “turned and rebuked” James and John, and they made their way to another village. Now, here I get to do something that, as I preacher, I very, very, rarely do: quote from the text of the King James Bible. In that version, here is what transpires when James and John offer to immolate the Samaritans, that is missing from our version:

“[Jesus] turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” In other, non-King James words, “Don’t forget what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man hasn’t come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”

Kind of makes me wonder what life would be like if the Phelps’ and Falwells and Robertsons of the world, who love to clobber others with select scripture verses, would read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this simple verse from their King James Bibles.

Of course, our text from Luke is not the only one we might find a bit challenging on this Gay Pride Sunday morning. Wouldn’t it be easy to just ignore our snippet from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, especially when he writes:

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” I wonder how that would preach later, outside, at the parade!

The separation of Spirit and Flesh? Sounds a lot like “love the sinner but hate the sin,” doesn’t it? Sounds like the Church of England’s “solution” to the “problem” of gay priests, who can be ordained, as long as they’re celibate; and can have a partner as long as there’s no physical consummation. On this day of celebration, let us continue to pray for our Mother Church.

Of course, Paul writes through the lens of his own context, a neo-Platonist-Jewish-Roman-male lens, if you will. And, as Paul is writing polemic here, it’s no wonder that our ears prick-up a few verses later when, at the beginning of that exhaustive list of all of that dirty-fleshy stuff, he employs the “f” word: “fornication.”

Yet, as much as it sounds like Paul is writing to the Galatians about preferences and proclivities, we need to remember that Paul’s main purpose is to counter the teachings of Jerusalem-based followers of Jesus, who continue to propound that all followers of Jesus need to be circumcised—they need to adhere to the most ancient of Jewish laws. Paul’s point is: If we are led by the Spirit, then we are no longer subject to the laws of the flesh. And what is that Spirit? Well, it’s the same spirit we hear Jesus tell us we are of today, and it’s summed up in a single, great commandment: To love God with all your being; and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Setting polemic aside, I wonder if Jesus would rebuke Paul and his screed against flesh and passion and desire. I wonder if Jesus would not so gently remind Paul of the great commandment—the one Paul himself quotes—and how contradictory hating the flesh but loving the spirit is in light of this commandment. I wonder if Jesus would remind Paul that the arc of God’s action in creation is long, always bending towards love. And that God’s love is justice in action.

As some of you here today know, my husband Chuck and I moved to St. Louis and the Diocese of Missouri just about a year ago, from the Diocese of New Hampshire. There, I was blessed to be ordained by, and serve with the now retired Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

Gene often employs a simple, yet profound, summary of theology that has found its way into many of my homilies over the years, and it’s in this one today. And that is that God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. Gay, straight; young, old; black, white; and every shade and configuration in between: God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings.

Let us embrace and embody that love as we joyously celebrate today; and let us enact that love as tomorrow we continue the struggle for justice and liberation for all creation.

Indeed, my sisters and brothers, God loves each and every one of us beyond our wildest imaginings. Even Samaritans.

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